When campaign saves a minor

Faizan Rafiq Hakeem

By Adnan Majeed

After years of protests on the streets of Kashmir for justice, the younger generation of Kashmir have taken the fight to a new battleground “internet” fighting and resisting through the weapon of online campaigns. Making their voices heard and gathering support for their causes, not only from within boundaries of the valley but from across the globe. Such a campaign was launched when Faizan Rafiq Hakeem, a 14-year-old boy was arrested on February 7, 2011 outside his house in Reshibazar locality of Islamabad town and was later booked under the Public Safety act for being allegedly involved in stone throwing.

The Police alleged that Faizan was part of protestors that pelted stones on police and other forces during protests against the state in four separate incidents of July 2009, June 2010, July 2010 and October 2010. Faizan was slapped with two charges for rioting and other offences for his “involvement” in the incidents. However, he was granted bail by a court on February 12 for one of the charges and on February 23 for the second. But he was not released instead, the police decided to hold him in administrative detention – without charge or trial – under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (PSA), a law that allowed then the detention of persons for up to two years without any judicial review of the allegations against them. (Later it was amended)

While all this was going on, the online population of the valley had swiftly acted to register their protest against Faizan’s detention. ‘Free Faizan’ campaign was launched on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Eminent personalities, activists, lawyers, media persons, writers, students and also the opposition party in the state assembly, People’s Democratic Party, were blogging, tweeting and putting up posts on social networking sites in support of Faizan.  The Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was barraged with tweets on his Twitter handle, people expressing dissent. One of such tweets read, “How can one sleep after lodging a minor in a jail in the company of criminals” (sic). It was by Bilal Nazki, a retired Chief Justice of Orissa High Court. In response, Abdullah tweet, a reply to the people which read, “Medical tests show him 2 B (to be) above 17. Law in J&K (has) a minor under 16. However in light of circumstances (I) am looking sympathetically (at the case).” (sic)

At the time of his arrest police claimed that his age was 27, but his family showed Amnesty International officials his school records which proved his date of birth as 18 May 1996 – making him less than 15 when he was arrested. Amnesty International verified the date of birth in the original records maintained in the school register. On March 28, the state police announced that age-tests conducted in the Jammu Government Medical College which showed Faizan’s age as between 17 and 18 years.

Amnesty International (AI) criticized the state for arresting a minor and lodging him in the jail with criminals. AI demanded a fair trial for Faizan as guaranteed by the Article 40(2) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates also that any detention shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time; such detention should be in a separate facility for children, as close as possible to his family in order to facilitate family contact.

Pressure was growing on Omar and the state, to which they finally succumbed. The campaign played a huge role in getting Faizan released as it helped his family to take his case in all the corners of world. People were writing from all over, demanding his release.  On April 5, 2011 Faizan Rafiq Hakeem was finally released from jail after spending more than two months in jail under PSA, thus becoming another minor who spent time in jail, illegally. On his release the AI wrote in its blog, “Thanks to social media, the world we live in is getting smaller and smaller—and the more interconnected we are, the harder it will be for human rights violations to go unnoticed. Faizan’s story is proof that enough voices speaking up about injustice are too loud to be ignored, especially on a public medium such as Twitter, where both action and inaction by those responsible can easily fall under scrutiny”.

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